I am NaNoWriMo-ing this year. It’s my third year having a bash at what feels to me an utterly sadistic challenge, wherein you boil a complex and intricate process down to a month’s worth of writing, that only really secures months and months of editing in the aftermath. And yet, here I am, bashing out a story that I hadn’t planned to write – largely because I decided to join the NaNoWriMo bandwagon the day before the blessed event was due to start.
I first tried to do NaNoWriMo in the middle of my MA degree; massive mistake, lasted a few days, developed a semi-decent character only to abandon the poor man and never write him again. The second time was last year; I was in the final year of my PhD (brilliant timing, yes, okay) and the horrendous editing for that had left me with creative energy to burn. I wrote every day, averaging at around 1700 words a pop, and I had a short story collection by the end of it.
This year, I am writing a thing. I don’t want to use the word novel because it feels far too serious for what I’m writing – so we’ll stick with thing. It’s a story about the disintegration of a marriage and how the smallest of incidents can cause the biggest of emotional crashes. It’s silly at times and over-written at others; the plot needs work as do my characters because I think one or both or them have come across as severely unhinged at one time or another. But I’m writing – nay, I’m enjoying writing, and frankly, it’s been a while since I could say that…
I had planned for an impassioned speech about the beauty of writing for the sake of writing, and how merely engaging in the artistic practice of putting words to paper was reward enough to engage in this painstaking month of key-smashing and tea-drinking like there’s no tomorrow. But I’m off the back of a writing session where I threw down just shy of 1800 words (after throwing down just shy of 3500 words yesterday) and, to be honest, I’m lacking in decent imagery. What I will say is this: NaNoWriMo makes me write like a writer. I wish I could I say that I write every day but I don’t; what I do do, though, is make sure I am meeting my overall word count by the end of the week. I think about the project daily and I work to get words down, even when those words feel like teeth being yanked from rotten gums (see, I told you I was lacking decent imagery). And that alone, to me, makes this seem like a worthwhile endeavour. If I have something that resembles the first draft of a story by the end of this sorry month, then that’s a total bonus.
I have read articles coming down hard against NaNoWriMo. On the flip side, I have read articles that propose those who criticise the NaNoWriMo process are doing so simply because it bastardises the mysticism of writing. It may be some feel that in ‘writing a novel in a month’ (which, I hasten to add, is a fast and loose way of describing what I’m doing right now) we are disregarding the craft, and skill, and whatever else goes into writing a book. While I half-understand that school of thought, I have to point out that while NaNoWriMo might promote fast-as-hell writing, it leads to hard-as-hell editing, so let’s not be too quick to discredit the skill that’s actually going into this work. Maybe NaNoWriMo just calls for – or rather, helps us practice – a different skill set to conventional writing habits, if such a thing as conventional writing habits even exist.
There are so many ways to argue for and against this project, but a few facts remain, and they’re facts worth remembering: NaNoWriMo encourages people to write, it maintains a worldwide community of writers, and it promotes something that day-to-day writers always wish people would show more of an interest in (that being, writing). There are people out there right now – like this very second, as you’re reading this – who are purging words like their lives depend on it, and regardless of whether they have a bestseller or not at the end of it, I absolutely salute their efforts, their determination, and their guts.
To them, I say: Write on!